Sunday, October 28, 2012

Between anger and denial: Israeli collective memory and the Nakba

A strange thing regarding the debate on the Nakba: the responses it generates in Israeli society are becoming more and more hostile, while at the same time, the Nakba is mentioned more and more often.

Those contradicting elements live side by side, as if the more we work to forget the Nakba, the harder it gets – the recent campaign regarding “the Jewish refugees” that the Foreign Office launched is just one example.

Israeli-Russian-Canadian journalist Lia Tarachansky (from The Real News) is presently finishing up work on a documentary that tries to deal with the complexity of Israeli sentiments towards the Nakba. “Seven Deadly Myths” (working title) tells the stories of four veterans from 1948, linking them to the lives of modern-day Palestinian refugees and to Tarachansky’s own childhood in a West Bank settlement. When I wrote about the memory of the Nakba on this blog, I also began with my childhood memories. Of all the political and historical issues here, the Nakba has the most intimate feeling to it – another reason it is such a taboo.

Filming has ended, and Tarachansky is now engaged in a fundraising effort to allow her to complete editing and post-production (more details on the film’s website). The project is also taking part in the Cuban Hat competition.

This week, I conducted an email interview with Lia Tarachansky on the roots of her project and the memory of the Nakba in Israeli society. The video above explains how this project was born.

LT: Most of the people in the film I found by word of mouth. I had asked around in the left’s circles. Then I stumbled onto Sergio Yahni of the Alternative Information Center who knew Tikva Honig-Parnass [seen in the above video] from when she edited the journal “Between The Lines” with Toufic Haddad.

Ruins of Palestinian Nakba village Qula, 2010 (photo: Deborah Bright /
Amnon Noiman I met through Zochrot ["Remembering," an Israeli NGO that deals with the memory of the Nakba – N.S], other veterans (some of whom later refused to take part in the film) I met through friends of friends or through the various war museums. At first, most were not willing to speak about the war and that period in general. They reminded me of my grandfather who until his dying years couldn’t talk about his memories of the Holocaust. I realized through their silence the immense power of memory and that’s what drove me to dig through my own.

Did you find regret in the Israelis you interviewed, or a feeling that “we did what we had to do?”

Honestly, most of the veterans, both those who are in the film and those who refused, didn’t want to “reopen that file.” One particularly profound moment in the film was in my various conversations and interviews with veteran Amnon Noiman. About three years ago, the Israeli activist Amir Hallel convinced him to give a testimony of his experience in 1948 to a small crowd in the Tel Aviv offices of Zochrot. When I heard about it I grabbed my camera and begged to film it.

I was amazed at how critical Noiman was that evening speaking about the general approach of the Israeli forces during the war, but it was clear even through his criticisms that there were corners of his memory that he refused to touch. Eitan Bronstein, the director of Zochrot asked him about one specific place – Burayr. In April 1948 its residents were expelled to Gaza by the Palmach unit Noiman was part of, and yet he refused to talk about it. It was only in our interview months later that he was ready to speak about what happened that April, 65 years ago. More